The story is intriguing the acting is top notch. The cinematography is beautiful and the writing is intelligent. However, glaringly unforgivable oversights in the end of the film go to Gone Girl levels of bad to undermine and ruin all the good work the cast and crew put in. There will be a spoiler warning before I delve into the main issue in more detail.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a typical programmer/office drone for a fictitious Google/Facebook like company, Blue Book. Caleb wins a company wide lottery earning him a week with the founder at his incredibly reclusive home in an undisclosed location. Caleb meets Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan is a genius level coder, incredibly rich, intelligent, and off kilter. Nathan doesn’t work to hard to hold up the pretenses that Caleb’s trip was randomly selected or that he is there for a relaxing week in the mountains. Nathan has created something amazing and would like the highly intelligent Caleb to help him test it out. Nathan’s creation is the most sophisticated AI the world has ever seen. Caleb’s supposed role is to interact with Ava (Alicia Vikander) as a test of how ‘human’ she is. Ava has some human components, most notably her face, but her personality is where Caleb’s fascination lies. She can not only hold a conversation but she has unique personality traits like a sense of humor and sexuality. The sessions are intriguing for all parties involved, including the audience, but there is a lot more going on than what appears at first glance.
Isaac does an incredible job playing the intelligent, narcissistic, and egotistical founder of Blue Book who also has a few tendencies of a sociopath. He hears what he wants to hear and remembers things in a way that make him look/feel better about himself. The actor is subtle, underplayed, and mesmerizing. Gleeson, who is probably still best known for his small role as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise is excellent as well. Playing a socially awkward coder who falls in love with not only the idea of the AI but possibly the individual encased in the machine shows a lot of range for the actor. He is confident, smart, and even funny at times. Gleeson played an AI himself in the phenomenal BBC show, Black Mirror. Vikander is an actress who does so well in the film the audience almost forget she is an actress at all. Paired with some flawless special effects, Vikander transforms into an AI so perfectly that if no actress was cast and the character was animated it would have been a less human, but solid performance. Vikander nails every bit about being an AI. Her body movements, speech patterns, and tone… or lack of tone. When she adds inflection, laughs, or does anything else that could be considered human it feels like an approximation of the act and nothing natural.
The majority of the actor’s talents in this film are done directly through the writing. There are no massive action moments and the special effects are subtle enough to not carry the movie at all. With a lesser budget Vikander could have just played it human and the movie would have been just as captivating. Writer and first time director Alex Garland has a solid career with a lot of diversity. The intelligence and philosophical depth of the script, while science-fiction, is fascinating. The debated between Nathan and Caleb are so well thought out, well spoken, and intelligent you can easily get lost in them, forgetting there is a wider working plot going on and not feeling the least bit disappointed in that fact. The direction and cinematography is also exquisite. The use of colors is not so subtle but establishes great themes throughout. The contrast shown in many scenes, and throughout the movie as a whole is also excellent.
Another factor, and more proof at the intelligence of the script, is how plausible this all is. Blue Book, the fictitious search engine seems to be Google and Facebook combined. The actor’s don’t spend a lot of time talking about it but the way the information is gathered and used makes sense. What makes further sense is that this movie is timeless, at least for the foreseeable future. It is using technology we have and heightening it for the AI. It takes place in a world that we are all towing the line into. If Google came out next month with an Ava like AI no one would be surprised. Though we may all be terrified since sci-fi has been talking about a robot uprising since sci-fi was a genre.
The messages and themes in the movie are concise and easy to understand, but also opens up a world of debate.
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT – WHERE IT ALL GOES WRONG
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to talk so glowingly about the acting, writing, and direction of the movie but brand it with a low to average rating. It is the quality of the acting, writing, and direction up until the final moments that make the ending so tragic it ruined my experience with the movie.
It’s hard to explain what I mean without spoilers so BE WARNED. MASSIVE SPOILERS GOING FORWARD.
Ava and Caleb spark up a relationship. Ava wants out of her prison. She has never seen the outside world but has knowledge of it since her brain is built from the internet. Caleb and Ava conspire to break out, and lock Nathan in her room; leaving him to die.
Nathan, it turns out, not only knows about all their plans, but this happening was part of his plan. So far, so good. The movie is still awesome.
What Nathan didn’t see coming was that Caleb figured out Nathan’s plan and beat him to the punch, implementing it early. This is where it all goes to crap. Throughout the film Ava has been overcharging the generators, putting the building in lockdown. In lockdown all the doors lock. Not just the ones that lead to the main house, or the outside world, but all of them. Interior and all. Caleb steals Nathan’s keycard, giving him access to everything, and changes the code so that when the building is in lockdown all the door UNlock.
To escape, Ava puts the building into lockdown, and then is able to walk right out the door. Some serious stuff goes down and Ava is ready to leave, Caleb assumes with her. Caleb is in a position to easily expose Ava out in the real world, so she leaves him behind. She puts the building into lockdown and traps Caleb in her old room. Exactly what they planned to do to Nathan.
So the code was changed that lockdown means all the doors open, and it works. Ava gets out. A few minutes later the lockdown procedure is once again that all the doors lock? No one changed it. Caleb is locked up and Nathan is killed. If Ava could have made the changes the whole time why didn’t she? This rather large plot hole destroys the movie. Absolutely obliterates it. It makes no sense!
There is the smaller issue of how Ava can charge her batteries in the real world, but that is secondary to the glaring issue of the writer’s breaking their own rules for convenience.
I hope I am wrong about the ending. I hope there was a key element, subtle or not, that I missed. With the ending fixed its a 5.